Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is a pose that we do over and over again in every practice. Sometimes it can feel more like a weight bearing exercise than the resting pose it is designed to be. The first time I did downward facing dog my arms gave way and I firmly planted my face on my yoga mat. Now it is my desert island pose! My practice feels incomplete without it. Here are a few tips to help you transform your practice and find ease in your downdog.
- Start on hands and knees, shoulders over wrists, hips over knees, toes tucked under. Inhale deeply and as you exhale lift the hips up and back coming to an inverted “V” shape.
- Spread your fingers and toes wide; take up as much space as you comfortably can with your hands and feet. For the hands, press firmly into the base of the index finger and thumb, ideally middle finger pointing straight forward. Start to spread the weight evenly though the hands. For the feet, press down evenly through the base of the big toe and the small toe. If the heels are on the floor spread the weight through all 4 corners of the feet.
- Start to work the heel towards the mat. If the heels are high off the round, the hamstrings, the hip flexors or the calf muscles may be tight. This also means much of the body weight rests on the wrists. It helps to bend the knees to lengthen the spine. While keeping the feet pointing forward, internally rotate the thighs i.e. roll the upper thighs in, back and apart moving the tops of the legs back in space. At the same time hug the outer calves towards each other. As the body warms up, the heels may move a little closer to the floor, but don’t force it. The aim is not to get the heels to the floor, but to work towards doing so with ease and with the whole body working together. Lastly, firm the thighs to shift the weight off the arms and give you the sense of your spine growing longer.
- Create space in the chest and shoulders by plugging the arm bones into the shoulder sockets and draw the shoulder blades down the back toward the hips. Firm the muscles of the arms to straighten the arms. For the super bendy people, take care not to hyperextend the elbows or sink too deeply into the shoulders. Externally rotate the upper arms and draw the backs of the arms towards the floor. Feel the triceps engage. The elbows will hug toward each other to help straighten the arms.
- Keep the spine long. If you are tight and round in the upper back bend the knees to shift more weight towards the legs and help elongate the spine. Shrug the shoulders back away from the ears to create more space around the collar bones and in the shoulders. For the hyper flexible aim to build strength and resist the urge to let your chest hang through the arms. Draw the lower ribs into the body, draw the belly up and in towards the spine and lift your head between the arms so the ears are parallel to the upper arms and the collar bones are wide.
As you can see the ubiquitous downdog is quite a complicated pose. Once all the elements come together downdog offers the perfect balance between strength and rest. Find ease and most importantly don’t forget to breathe!
Hope this helps!